Washington Brief: Intelligence Officials to Testify on Russian Hacks

Washington Brief

  • Top U.S. intelligence officials are slated to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning about Russia’s interference in the presidential election. (The New York Times)
  • President-elect Donald Trump, who continues to question whether Russia conducted election-related hacking, is working with top advisers to reorganize and scale back the nation’s top spy agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) threat to block any of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees that they deem to be out of the “mainstream.” (Morning Consult)
  • Trump said he would nominate Jay Clayton, an attorney with ties to big banks, to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Quartz) Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick to lead the State Department, met with senators on Wednesday. (Houston Chronicle)
  • President Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Mike Pence showed up on Capitol Hill Wednesday to talk about Obamacare repeal efforts, but neither offered a plan for how their side should proceed. (National Journal)

Chart Review

Calendar Events (All Times Local)

Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyberthreats 9:30 a.m.
House convenes 10 a.m.
Senate convenes 10 a.m.
AEI event on the future of global oil markets 11 a.m.
House votes 1:15 p.m.
House votes 5:45 p.m.
No events scheduled.



How Julian Assange evolved from pariah to paragon
David Weigel and Joby Warrick, The Washington Post

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted some praise on Tuesday for a man most Republicans wanted nothing to do with. He had seen Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, defend himself during an hour of friendly, prime-time questions on Fox News. And he was impressed.

The Obamacare Wars: Messaging First, Strategy Later
Daniel Newhauser and Erin Durkin, National Journal

When it comes to Obama­care, the in­com­ing and out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions are deeply com­mit­ted to dia­met­ric­ally op­posed goals. But they have at least one thing in com­mon: Neither one seems able to ex­plain how to achieve those goals. As Pres­id­ent Obama huddled with con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats on Wed­nes­day to talk about sav­ing his sig­na­ture health care law, Vice Pres­id­ent-elect Mike Pence held a par­al­lel meet­ing across the Cap­it­ol with House Re­pub­lic­ans to re­in­force to them that Pres­id­ent-elect Don­ald Trump in­tends to re­peal it.

Biden to tackle broad range of cancer issues, including drug prices, after leaving White House
Laurie McGinley, The Washington Post

Vice President Biden, who led the Obama administration’s “cancer moonshot” initiative, will create a nonprofit organization to grapple with a broad range of cancer issues, including the high cost of cancer drugs, he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m going to begin a national conversation and get Congress and advocacy groups in to make sure these treatments are accessible for everyone, including these vulnerable underserved populations, and that we have a more rational way of paying for them while promoting innovation,” Biden said.

Battle With Trump Puts GM in Tough Spot
Mike Colias, The Wall Street Journal

General Motors Co. has landed on Donald Trump’s hot seat at a tricky time. The president-elect’s criticism of the auto maker’s Mexican imports, leveled in a tweet Tuesday morning, comes as it plans to lay off thousands of workers in two states pivotal to the Republican’s November victory.

Mexico brings back adviser who quit because of Trump meeting
Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press 

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday brought back a close adviser and Cabinet secretary who had stepped down after arranging a presidential meeting with Donald Trump, a move that angered Mexicans upset by the then-Republican candidate’s comments about migrants. Pena Nieto appointed former Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray as his new foreign relations secretary and tasked him with trying to establish contacts and dialogue for a constructive working relationship with Trump’s administration, which takes power on Jan. 20.


Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency
Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes, The Wall Street Journal

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said. The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.

Trump’s team tries to stifle rift on Russia
Bryan Bender, Politico

A war is brewing among Donald Trump’s advisers over how to deal with Russia and Vladimir Putin — and his team is trying to keep it from breaking out into the open. As the president-elect’s top national security picks prepare to testify before Congress starting next week, his transition team is plotting ways to prevent a public spectacle that airs their most wildly divergent assessments of the threat Russia poses, according to two members of the Trump camp directly involved in the deliberations.

Fed officials think Trump tax cuts could lead to higher rates
Sam Fleming, Financial Times

Many officials of the US Federal Reserve said the central bank could be forced to lift rates higher than expected if Congress passed Donald Trump’s economy-boosting tax cuts next year, according to minutes of the Fed’s final policy meeting of 2016. Almost all Fed officials meeting on December 13-14 said the risks of growth surpassing their forecasts had grown because of the possibility of more “expansionary” fiscal policy under the president-elect and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Tillerson makes rounds on Capitol Hill, seeks support for confirmation as secretary of state
James Osborne, Houston Chronicle

Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, attempted to deflate concerns around his activities abroad as CEO of Exxon Mobil during a series of meetings with congressional leaders Wednesday Over a more than 35-year career at the Irving-based oil giant, Tillerson has established relationships with world leaders in Russia and the Middle East, at times criticizing U.S. foreign policy and questioning the rationale, including the decision to impose sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, a former province of Ukraine, and support for pro-Russian separatists fighting against the Ukraine government.

Trump’s pick for SEC chair would be the first Wall Street lawyer in 15 years to police the securities business
Tim Fernholz, Quartz 

Jay Clayton, a prolific Wall Street attorney, has been tapped by US president-elect Donald Trump to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is charged with protecting investors from fraud. Clayton, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, boasts a career encompassing some of the largest capital-markets transactions in recent years, from the $25 billion US public stock offering of the Chinese internet firm Alibaba to British Airways’ acquisition of Iberia Air.

When Donald Trump Tweets, It Is News to Sean Spicer
Shibani Mahtani, The Wall Street Journal 

Donald Trump’s incoming White House press secretary said Wednesday the president-elect would continue his prolific use of Twitter when in office, adding that even he and other communication advisers aren’t consulted before a tweet is sent out. “I do not know, I do not get a memo [about the tweets],” Sean Spicer said in a discussion at a University of Chicago Institute of Politics event with former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama adviser David Axelrod.


Russia Looms Large as Senate Committee Is Set to Discuss Hacking
Matt Flegenheimer and Scott Shane, The New York Times

The Senate Armed Services Committee will convene on Thursday morning for a hearing on “foreign cyberthreats to the United States.” Of course, one foreign entity is destined to loom largest: Russia.

McConnell: Americans Won’t ‘Tolerate’ SCOTUS Blockade
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday scoffed at his counterpart’s threat to block President-elect Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-named Supreme Court nominee. A day after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on MSNBC that Democrats would only accept a “mainstream” nominee, McConnell said the New York Democrat “announced yesterday that their goal was to apparently never fill the Supreme Court.”

McConnell, Schumer back resolution condemning U.N. over Israel vote
Burgess Everett, Politico

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are backing a resolution championed by Marco Rubio that objects to the United Nations’ recent condemnations of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, all but assuring the Senate will move to publicly criticize the international body. The resolution, written by Rubio and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) with heavy input from leadership in both parties, will express “grave objection” to the United Nations vote in December and calls for a reversal of the controversial action, according to a copy of the resolution reviewed by POLITICO.

Joe Manchin: Trump Whisperer?
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call 

After picking the Senate over a possible job in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III is trying to play the bridge-builder role between the Senate Democratic caucus and the incoming administration. Manchin told reporters that he spoke with Vice President-elect Mike Pence after Wednesday’s party caucus lunches about Republican designs to repeal the 2010 health care law.

Confirmation Hearings Scheduled for DeVos, Pompeo, Kelly
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult 

Senate committees on Wednesday announced confirmation hearing dates for three of President-elect Donald Trump’s picks to serve in his administration: Betsy DeVos, Rep. Mike Pompeo and retired Gen. John Kelly. DeVos, Trump’s choice to lead the Education Department, is scheduled to appear before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 11.


Republicans Target Obama Rules on Methane, Coal
Kevin Freking, The Associated Press

House Republican leaders said Wednesday their top regulatory targets will be President Barack Obama’s rules to reduce methane emissions and to lessen the environmental impact of coal mining on the nation’s streams. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he expects swift action on the two environmental rules, arguing that they limit the nation’s energy production.

Fight still looms over House ethics watchdog
Fredreka Schouten, USA Today

Although House Republicans abandoned their bid to gut Congress’ independent ethics watchdog this week, the debate over how to best to police lawmakers’ conduct is far from over. Republican leaders have pledged to hash out a bipartisan agreement by August to address lawmakers’ concerns about the activities of the Office of Congressional Ethics.


Unexpected Candidacy Upends Virginia Democrats’ Plans for Key Governor Race
Jonathan Martin, The New York Times

Tom Perriello, the former congressman from Virginia, is making a surprise entry into his state’s governor’s race, disrupting Democrats’ well-laid plans in what promises to be the most-watched election in the country this year. Mr. Perriello on Wednesday telephoned Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who had been widely presumed to be the party’s nominee, to tell him he was entering the race, according to three Democrats directly familiar with the conversation.

Jason Kander criticizes Missouri Republicans over voter ID law Missouri
Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star

Secretary of State Jason Kander admonished the Republican dominated General Assembly Wednesday over legislation passed last year requiring voters to provide a photo ID before they can cast a ballot. House Republicans responded by ditching a planned resolution that would have thanked Kander for his years of service.

How Christie’s top aide shook Bridgegate and won over Trump
Josh Dawsey et al., Politico

During a salacious criminal trial last year involving the 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike cited the hard-nosed culture of Gov. Chris Christie’s political operation. Running that operation was Bill Stepien, who was named President-elect Donald Trump’s political director Wednesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper wants to expand Medicaid; Republicans vow to fight
David Rani, The News & Observer 

Gov. Roy Cooper plans to take immediate executive action aimed at expanding Medicaid, defying a state law and setting up a confrontation with the Republican-dominated state legislature. Addressing a group of business leaders at an economic forum on Wednesday morning, the Democratic governor who was sworn into office on New Year’s Day said he would file an amendment to the state Medicaid plan by Friday – which would allow hundreds of thousands more people to sign up for government health insurance.


Keith Ellison Vows To Ban Lobbyist Contributions To The DNC
Zach Carter and Daniel Marans, The Huffington Post 

In a new video interview with The Huffington Post, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) pledged to ban contributions from lobbyists to the Democratic Party if he’s elected as its next chairman. “Yeah, I would,” Ellison told HuffPost when asked about banning lobbyist donations. “I think it’s important that people feel that the party is their party … There is a pragmatic, perhaps too pragmatic step that you can say, ‘We’ll just take whatever money from whatever source in whatever amount.’ But once you do that, I think you cross a line where people do not feel that the party is really theirs.”

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

The numbers don’t lie: the Durbin Amendment has been a bonus for the biggest retailers, but a failure for consumers. Get the real story about the Durbin Amendment’s impact from the Electronic Payments Coalition.

Opinions, Editorials & Perspectives

The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform
Barack Obama, The Harvard Law Review

Presidencies can exert substantial influence over the direction of the U.S. criminal justice system. Those privileged to serve as President and in senior roles in the executive branch have an obligation to use that influence to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system at all phases.

Trump’s Generals Will Make The Presidential Cabinet Great Again
Sen. Deb Fischer, Independent Journal Review

The American people should be encouraged at the nominations of Marine Generals James Mattis and John Kelly to serve in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I offer a structural observation: the selections of James Mattis and John Kelly forecast a restoration of the cabinet secretary’s true role as an influential counselor who has the president’s ear.

The Anti-Inauguration
Charles M. Blow, The New York Times

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States is just two weeks away, so now is the time to begin making plans to send him the strongest possible signal that your opposition to the presidency he has foreshadowed will not be pouting and passive, but active and animated. Now is the time to begin making your plans for the anti-inauguration.

What if Trump is playing Russia like he played the media?
Hugh Hewitt, The Washington Post

Is it better to be thought a lightweight and dismissed by rivals if you are in fact talented, ambitious and ready to strike? To be thought clueless when in fact you have a plan?

Midnight Rules Need Morning Repeal
The Editorial Board, The Wall Street Journal

The Obama Administration’s midnight regulation bender has been something to behold, and now we are learning the remarkable magnitude: 145 new regulations merely in the 36 working days from the election through Dec. 31. The good news: Congress on Wednesday began to stop and repeal the binge.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

A string of broken promises has left consumers feeling the sting of the Durbin Amendment, while big-box stores continue to pocket billions of dollars at customers’ expense. The time for repeal is now. Find out the truth from EPC.

Research Reports and Polling

Federal prison population fell during Obama’s term, reversing recent trend
John Gramlich, Pew Research Center

President Barack Obama is on pace to leave the White House with a smaller federal prison population than when he took office – a distinction no president since Jimmy Carter has had, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell 5% (or 7,981 inmates) between the end of 2009, Obama’s first year in office, and 2015, the most recent year for which BJS has final, end-of-year statistics.